Roberts v. Roberts, 19 A.3d 277 (Del. 2011)

Curtis P Bounds

Case Conclusion Date:May 5, 2011

Practice Area:Divorce / Separation

Outcome:Decision below affirmed

Description:Wife appealed to the Delaware Supreme Court a Family Court Judge’s Order which Order reviewed and found no error in a Commissioner’s Order granting a decree of divorce. The issue before the Supreme Court, and which issue was litigated at the divorce hearing and on the trial de novo, was whether the Husband, as the Petitioner, had taken the appropriate parent education program course prior to the entry of the divorce decree. Specifically, Wife argued that Husband did not take the parenting education program course, (hereafter “PEP”) required for perpetrators of domestic violence. The Supreme Court affirmed the Family Court’s finding that Husband did not have a demonstrable history of domestic violence and that therefore, Husband had no obligation to take the PEP course containing the domestic violence component. The Family Court also ruled that even if Husband had been required to take the PEP course with the domestic violence component, he had cured the procedural defect by taking the domestic violence component after the entry of the divorce decree. Although the Supreme Court had already ruled that Husband’s taking of the basic PEP course was sufficient for the entry of the divorce decree, the Supreme Court entertained the issue in dicta as to whether taking the PEP course is a condition precedent to the entry of a divorce decree. Were it a condition precedent, then the requirement to take the PEP course would stand as a substantive bar to the entry of a divorce decree. The Supreme Court concluded that the PEP course is a procedural, but not a substantive bar to the entry of a divorce decree, and that the Family Court can in its procedural power, cure the defect. Specifically, the Supreme Court found that the PEP course was not required to be completed by both parties prior to the entry of a divorce decree, and that the Family Court had, in its history of enforcing the statute requiring the PEP course, used procedural means both by rule and practice in both divorce and custody cases to enforce the intent of the legislature of having parties with parents of minor children take and complete the course. As such, the PEP course did not stand as a substantive bar to the entry of a divorce decree and therefore the Family Court’s decision withstood scrutiny on both grounds of the appeal.

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